It’s Not All Glitz And Glam – 5 Real Sunday League Football Stories

By Staff
May 1, 2024

Tune in to the TV to watch football and you would think it is a glamorous life. Certainly for those that you see playing in the Champions League and Premier League, that is the case.

It’s still a pretty good living for those playing in the lower professional leagues and even down into the Nationwide League.

But it is down in the amateur game, not the ‘good’ amateur level, but the local Saturday or Sunday League level where the real roots of football lie.

Now you won’t find betting available at bet365 Sport on your local Sunday league games and there’s a good reason for that. Because there are thousands of them played every weekend of the football season.

And almost all of them generate zero interest amongst anyone. Other than players of the clubs involved and their immediate family and friends.

Yet it is on these pitches every weekend that you can find some genuinely amazing and occasionally crazy football stories.

Having played many years at this level, I have gone through my memory banks to come up with five Real Sunday League stories that you will scarcely believe.

But they are all 100% true. I know that because I was there for all of them.

For those of you that may not know what Sunday League football is, read the section below. For the rest, skip ahead to the first of the stories a little further on in the post.

What is Sunday League Football?

Senior man sitting on field tying laces. Man with grey beard in sport clothes getting ready for training. Football, sport, leisure activities concept

Sunday League is the generic term used to describe thousands of amateur football teams that play in local leagues up and down the UK every weekend. While most teams play on a Sunday, there are some teams who play on a Saturday instead.

And there are players who play for one team on a Saturday, then another on the Sunday. I did that for several years.

This is genuine amateur level football. Many teams formed by a group of friends who attend a local pub, or social club, or who were at school together, or work together. Or it can just be a group of people from a local area who band together to form a team.

Players pay ‘subs’ an amount each game which helps cover the costs of paying the referee (if one turns up), washing the kit (if you don’t do it yourself) and perhaps, if you are lucky, and end of season knees up.

The league is played on an assortment of local authority pitches that range in quality from being awful, to downright dangerous and which turn into a mud-bath at the first sign of rain.

They are games that nobody watches, fewer care about, but for the players, are hugely important.

In a nutshell, that is Sunday League football.

And here’s some true tales of what can happen before, during and after these games in question.

A DIY Sunday League Warm Up

Sunday League

    Part of the appeal of Sunday football is that you get a real mix of people playing in the same team. In one of the Sunday League teams I played with, one of the players was a self-employed joiner who travelled to the game in his works van, named Jimmy.

    And it was a good job that he did when we rolled up on one Sunday morning an hour before kick-off to discover joyriders had driven over the football pitch and crashed into one of the wooden goalposts.

    Fortunately, rather than being smashed to bits, the post had broken into two pieces.

    The referee was looking gravely at the damaged post and was on the verge of calling the game off until Jimmy rolled up in his van, boots in his Kwik Save bag.

    “Nah, I can sort that, give me a minute. I’ve got the stuff to do it in my van.”

    So while Jimmy disappeared into his van to get an assortment of tools ready, me and the rest of the players already assembled took down and dismantled the goal posts. We took the broken post over to Jimmy, who had hastily set up a workbench outside his car and who then went about mending the broken post.

    Ten minutes or so later, Jimmy wandered back over with the goalpost mended.

    “Here you go…” he said putting it onto the floor. We reattached the post to the crossbar and then put the goal back up and let the referee inspect Jimmy’s handiwork. He was happy enough to let the game go ahead.

    Jim was the hero of the day, right up until the manager named the team for the match, when he announced that he’d dropped Jim to the bench for the game.

    Well, there’s f***ing gratitude for you!” stated Jimmy as the team fell about the changing room laughing.

    To be fair, Jimmy got on at half time, and we won the game. And the post was used the rest of the season without issue. A testament to his handiwork.

    The Warm Up That Went Wrong

    When I was still at school, a group of friends started a Sunday League team and a number of us played for them. We were a decent team, not the best in the league as there was one team who literally won every game each season. But we’d give them a close game at times and likely finish 2nd in the league.

    Anyway, while playing for this team one Sunday, we were warming up for a game.

    That sounds grander than it is. What we were doing is passing a ball between us and taking shots at the goalkeeper.

    My good friend at the time, Alan, was a centre half. Good in the air, great stamina but technically not the greatest player. During a warmup, we were playing a game of attack vs defence and the ball bounced loose and Alan and I went to challenge for the ball, or so I thought.

    Alan got there just before me, and I think his defender’s instinct took over. He simply smashed the ball hard, but caught it slightly wrong and sent the ball straight into my face from about a yard away.

    You know when your ears are ringing? Well, there was that. I also saw double at first and then I felt something running down my nose. I wiped it away and carried on. There was more. I wiped it away. Then I felt it drip, drip, drip, drip.

    My nose had been smashed to bits and was bleeding profusely everywhere.

    Five minutes before the start of the game, I was on the sidelines trying to stem a nosebleed which lasted to kick off and well into the first half. I had to start the game holding a sponge with freezing cold water against my nose and a shirt that looked like I had just come from the local abbatoir.

    “You sure you’re alright lad?” said the ref?

    “Yeah, I’m fine, this always happens…” I said.

    By the end of the game, the shirt was completely blood red over the chest. My nose did stop bleeding, but I ended up with two cracking black eyes.

    You’ll Have To Play…

    Thankfully, I wasn’t injured too often when playing for my Sunday League teams, but one week, we played a game against a major opponent who had decided that as I was the leading goalscorer for the team, I was to be stopped.

    Exactly how they did that was wait for me to receive the ball with my back to them, and then their centre half slid right through the back of me, right on my ankle, which completely twisted over.

    I was in agony and had to come off in that game (it didn’t matter, we had such a good team we still won easily anyway). I limped home and was still no better by Wednesday.

    So a trip to the doctors revealed that I’d torn pretty much every ligament in my ankle. No Sunday League football for at least 3-4 weeks, better still six or more.

    Yeah right. As soon as the pain relented, I’d be playing again. It just wouldn’t be this next game.

    So, I turned up on the Sunday without my boots, hobbling around to watch the team play. As I wasn’t playing, I got there 15 minutes later than the rest of the team and hobbled into the dressing room.

    It looked a bit sparse.

    “Where is everyone?” I asked.

    Well, it seemed that our usual 14-man squad had thinned out a little. I was injured. Two lads couldn’t play as they had gone away with their families. And then we learned that our right back had been arrested the night before after a night out and was still ‘helping police with their enquiries.”

    14 minus 4 meant ten players. Not ideal for Sunday League football.

    The team’s assistant manager came up to me “Look, we’re short…Can you play?”

    “Tom, I can barely walk! Let alone run. I’ll be useless.”

    “Well, we’ll just stick you up front like usual then.” He said laughing. “But will you?”

    You really can’t say no in those situations, so I began to get changed, when I realised that I didn’t have my boots. My dad rushed home to pick them up, thankfully just a short drive away, and then came back and informed me my mum wasn’t very impressed with me playing.

    I played and was predictably hopeless. Hobbling around for the entire game. Fortunately, our Sunday League opponents were equally as useless as me and we still won, and I still managed to score a couple with my good right foot.

    Why You Should Always Check The First Aid Bag

    At Sunday League level, first aid is usually one of either: –

    • A paracetamol, or ibruprofen.
    • A drink of water (or occasionally beer)
    • The magic sponge from a bucket filled with the coldest water in human history.
    • Heat Spray and/or Freeze Spray

    In one game I was playing, I challenged for a header and landed funny, jarring something in my groin area.

    Our assistant manager Tommy (or Tom) was the man we charged with anything vaguely first aid related. He had zero training, but had watched an episode of Casualty, so he was over-qualified for the role.

    I jogged over to the sideline and explained what had happened.

    “Stick a bit of spray on it and see if that settles it down…” said the manager.

    Tom grabbed the freeze spray and yanked my shorts over to one side. Dignity is not something that Tommy was overly concerned with when he treated players in Sunday League games.

    He shook the can and started spraying liberally and I looked down and saw the can was red.

    “Tom…That’s the heat spray!”

    “Eh, what no it…oh sh*t…err…You’ll be alright..”

    He was right. The tweak in my groin disappeared. Instead it turned into an uncomfortable burning sensation. A minute later, it felt like my entire groin area was entirely on fire. My eyes were watering and I could barely move. I hobbled over the sideline.

    “Do you need to come off?” asked the manager.

    “I need him to be sent for a bloody eye-test…” I said, grabbing the magic sponge and squeezing the cooling water all over the burning area, while those around me were helpless with laughter.

    I never got a groin injury ever again, funnily enough.

    Spoiling The Sunday League Video

    Sunday League

    When I was around 12-13, I played Sunday league for a local kids team. We were originally set to play in our own age group, but the league folded our division and instead, all the other teams moved to a different local league to play. Our manager though didn’t want to play in that league. So, he applied for us to play in the next age group up.

    Now at that age in boys, there is a BIG difference. Many of our team were just young lads. All of the teams we faced had players at least a year or more older than us. They were bigger, physically much stronger, faster and of course, that meant our team got hammered every week.

    Our Sunday League results went something like: 12-0 defeat, 8-1, defeat, 16-0 defeat, 11-1 defeat, 6-2 defeat (a moral victory), a 17-0 defeat and miraculously a 3-3 draw against a team who had won just one game this season and who only had nine players playing against us for that game.

    By the midway point of the Sunday League season, we had one point and miraculously were not bottom. That’s because a team, Bromborough Youth, had lost every game they played so far this season, but had not yet played us.

    That would change this Sunday. We had seen their record and our manager reckoned we stood a chance of winning the game. He even promised us a Mars Bar each if we landed the unlikely victory.

    So, while we were not confident, we felt we had a chance. We got changed and jogged out onto the pitch… and then noticed something very odd.

    On the Bromborough Youth side of the pitch, their manager and another couple of people were fussing around a large video camera. I saw our manager, Alec, talking to him and then he walked over to us with a smile on his face.

    His team talk went something like this.

    “Lads, listen… I’ve got to tell you this. They are so sure they are going to win this game; their manager has hired a video camera to record it and is taking orders from the parents for a copy to raise funds for the team.” Alec smiled.

    “Wouldn’t it be a shame if we ruined it for them?!” he smiled at us.

    “Now go out there and win. You can beat them!”

    And we did! And it wasn’t even close. We won the game 9-3. And at the end of the game Alec went over to their manager.

    “Tell you what, put me down for a copy of that video too…” he said before smiling and walking off.

    In the dressing room we sat in stunned silence when Alec came into the room. We’d won. And we didn’t know how to react.

    “You’re a weird bunch you lot,” he said smiling “You’re happier when you lose!”

    We played them again later in the season, when they had a bunch of new Sunday League players and were supposedly much better. They were.

    This time, we only beat them 3-1 and the video camera was conspicuous by its absence.

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